To Advise or Not to Advise…. What is the Culture?

Posted by: Farah Lodi on February 26, 2014 4:00 pm

The Western model of counselling encourages us therapists to help our clients explore their issues, develop insight, develop coping mechanisms and tools to make their own decisions. We encourage autonomy, which we believe will empower our clients to find their own solutions. After all, isn’t our goal usually to help our clients achieve self-sufficiency? We’re not supposed to give advice, right?

This model doesn’t always work for all cultures. In the East, collectivist attitudes still prevail over the individualistic mind-set. Problems are solved within the community and family system. A young Omani client who came to see me for marriage counseling told me that back home specialists such as psychologists are few in number, because there is a good support system already in place in the form of extended family members……….who give advice. My knee-jerk reaction was, “does that really help people deal with life problems in the most considered, consistent and constructive way?”. He grinned, and reminded me of the significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety.

A Japanese client who was seeing me for marriage counseling asked me bluntly “what should I do?” This is after she revealed that her spouse had cheated on her. Her expectation was that she had paid money for counseling, and if I don’t give her advice, she may have wasted her money. After -all in the English language, to counsel means to advise.

I work with a very culturally diverse population.  Hence, I need to be diverse in my approaches with them. Symptoms and behaviors may have no cultural boundaries, but clients differ in their needs from therapy. Sometimes open-ended questions leave the client feeling confused, weak and scared. In my view, occasionally giving a client my advice often results in them walking away with a sense of relief, which in turn leads to uplifted mood, reduced anxiety, and strangely, a sense of confidence. Counseling goal achieved! People may wonder if this hinders building long-term psychological resiliency. My conclusion on that is that it’s my job to work within their cultural norms, and if seeking sound advice helps them, then let that be a coping mechanism for them to use now and in the future.

If client beneficence is the framework for counsellor ethics, I believe we need to be very flexible with our theoretical approaches. Self-sufficiency isn’t a goal for everyone. Rogerian- style unconditional positive regard and  person-centered empathic listening can lay the foundation for an emotional support strategy that includes advice-giving – if that’s what the client needs. It’s a no-brainer that when I give advice it has to be through the worldview of my clients. As a counselor I can sometimes model the attitude that makes them feel truly supported – the role of advice-giver.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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